The three sides of resilience


We talk a lot about the importance of resilience in business, but although we are all familiar with the term, we don't always stop and think about what we really mean by it and whether we're actually all talking about the same thing.

At first sight, it’s easy to see resilience as a single, simple, attitude or concept – perhaps a kind of personal grit or refusal to give in. But it’s actually rather more complex than that and I think it’s worth looking a little more closely at it. 

Earlier this week, I heard Professor Simon Collinson of the University of Birmingham speak at the launch of the latest Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce Economic Review*. Discussing how economic shocks such as the pandemic are a test of resilience, he put forward the definition:

“Resilience… the capacity of a regional economy to withstand, recover from and reorganise in the face of market, competitive and environmental shocks to its developmental growth plan.”


This, and his subsequent comments on the resilience of the region, opens up the idea of resilience having three distinct facets: 

    1. Withstanding
    2. Recovering
    3. Reorganising

Let’s take a closer look.

Withstanding a setback

When something bad happens to us or to our business, are we ready for it? Do we have a plan in place for such an occurrence? What’s our initial reaction? How do we cope? 

Depending on what the setback is, simple strength and mule-headedness may not be enough. Unless it’s just a brief one-time shock after which the situation returns to its original state, our determination is likely to be eroded over time and we’re going to need to adapt to the new scenario. 

Recovering from a setback

Realistically, it’s not possible to prepare for every possible setback, so if that first shock knocked us down, can we get back up again?

Even if we can, getting back up isn’t enough either. As before, when we managed to keep on our feet, we need to respond to the new situation with pragmatism and be agile enough to adapt to it – and to continually modify our response as the situation continues to change. 

Reorganisation after a setback

Once the initial onslaught has stopped, we may be on our feet, but do we still know the best way forward?

Whether we managed to withstand the initial shock or took a fall and then got back onto our feet, the next thing is to assess the new situation. The outlook may well have changed, so we need to reorganise, regroup and realign if need be, and then set off on the right path to full recovery and future growth.

Resilience isn’t a simple, single concept and when we talk about being resilient there are three clear elements to consider: reaction, recovery and realignment. 

Being resilient isn’t just about whether you can endure the blows and keep standing. It isn’t just about whether you can get back on your feet if you get knocked down. It’s also about whether you can then turn around and get going again, heading in the best direction for the new situation. And it’s about doing the whole thing over and over again, if necessary.

Failure is not falling down but refusing to get up.
― Chinese proverb

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